Apr 25, 2008

Bread Baking

Before we moved in with in-laws I used to bake bread all of the time. Since moving in I have not had the chance to start again until today. We almost ran out of bread and I thought now is as good as any time to get back into the swing of things.

I perfected a recipe using my bread machine and used it all the time. My machine did most of the "work" for me. When it would get to the rise cycle I would take it out and place it in my pan. Once it rises I punch it down and let it rise again. A 2 lb loaf recipe would give me two 1 lb loaves. It was good bread if I do say so myself. Well today I got out my bread machine to get started. I opened it up to find the thing-a-ma-jingy that mixes the dough at the bottom was missing. I looked through all my drawers and couldn't find it. So my conclusion was it must still be packed away in some unknow box. I then found out my recipe was also packed away. So I went on the search and found the Hillbilly Housewife's Beginner Bread and thought I would give it a try. Remember I always let my machine do the "work" for me so this is the first time that I did any kneading myself and I ENJOYED it! It felt good to just put a little of pent up stress into the pushing, pounding, stretching, and pulling of that dough.

So here is the recipe for "Beginners Bread":

3 cups of white or whole wheat flour, or 1-1/2 cups of each (plus a little extra flour for kneading) -I chose to go half and half
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet, or about 2 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon sugar or brown sugar or honey (I used brown sugar)
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup warm water (not hot, just warm)

When you need a recipe to practice making bread with, this is the one to turn to. First you need a big bowl. If you don't have a big bowl, then a large pot will work just as well. Measure the flour into the bowl (or pot). White flour is easier to use to make your first batch of dough. Whole Wheat flour makes a simple variation though, when you decide to branch out a little. Make sure your flour measurements are level with the top of the measuring cup. Don't pack the flour down into the cup. Just scoop it in lightly, and even off the top of it with your finger by brushing off the excess. After you put your flour into the bowl, add the salt, sugar and yeast. One of the packets of yeast from the store will work just fine. If you have a jar or bag of yeast, then use about 2 teaspoons of it. Using your hands or a spoon or fork, stir the yeast, salt, sugar and flour all together. These are the dry ingredients. They are called dry ingredients because they aren't wet or sticky. They are dry and light. Now measure in your oil. Add a cup of warm water. Do not use hot tap water. Hot tap water is too hot and will kill the yeast. Use warm tap water instead. Warm enough to feel warm to your finger, but not warm enough to scald you. Try to measure the water accurately.

Stir the dough with a fork or spoon until it gets sticky and stiff. Next look at your hands, are they clean? If not then wash them. Remove any rings or watches you may have on and put them in a safe place. Dig into the dough with your clean hands. It will be gooey, and warm. Work the dough with your hands, right there in the bowl. Scrape the dough off of your fingers as necessary and try to get the dough to all work together into a nice ball. If it is too sticky then add more flour. You may need to add up to 1/2 cup more flour, or even more sometimes. If it is too dry, then add a little bit of water at a time, to get it right. Usually a teaspoon of water at a time, is a good way to go. Mix and mash; Mix and mash. When you get a ball of dough, turn the dough out onto your counter or kitchen table. Scatter a bit of flour about the dough, and around the counter. Knead the dough. Press it, fold it, stretch it, turn it. Keep kneading the dough for a full 5 minutes by the clock. Set the timer if need be. Kneading makes the dough soft and fluffy. Be sure to knead it enough.

Here is after it is all kneaded and ready to put oil in bowl to let rise.

Here is a picture of my hand compared to the size of the dough so that I would know how much it rose.

Here is my 2nd dough ball. I decided right after the 1st one to go ahead and make another. I should have done it together to save time but hindsight is always 20/20.

Then let the dough sit on the counter for a few minutes while you wash out the bowl you used to mix it in. Dry the bowl and pour a little bit of oil into it. A spoonful (teaspoon or tablespoon) will be just enough. Place the ball of dough into the clean bowl, on top of the oil. Roll the dough around in the oil, to coat it evenly. Place the dough in a warm spot, or on the counter near the stove. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel. Allow the dough to sit and rise. It may take the dough up to 2 hours to rise. You will want it to double in size. Be patient and give the dough enough time to get as big as it can. Sometimes this happens in as quickly as an hour, but usually it takes longer, especially if the kitchen is cold.

I forgot to take pictures of the dough before I punched it down and transferred it to the pans. Must have been dealing with kids. It was quite warm today so it only took an hour to rise.

Here is after kneading it for the 2nd time. I think I may have had too much oil in the bowl because the dough got "bumpy and lumpy" instead of smooth like the first go round.

Here it is after almost an hour - all risen but still bumpy and lumpy.

When it is well risen, punch the dough down. Put your fist into the dough and smash down to force all the air out of it. Knead the dough again. This time, just knead it for a minute or so. Long enough to get all the air out of it. Let the dough rest for a minute or two while you oil or grease a loaf pan. A large loaf pan either 9" by 5" or 8½" by 4½" is the perfect size. If you don't have a loaf pan, then use a casserole pan, or a round cake pan. The dough doesn't know what shape it is supposed to be. You have to give it shape. Round bread is sometimes easier to make as a first loaf, so if you don't have a bread pan, use what ever you do have. Just make sure to grease the pan well. Coax the dough into the shape of the pan you are going to bake it in. Cover it with a dish towel or plastic wrap again. Set it aside and let it rise for about an hour to an hour and a half. It should double in bulk again. After it has risen enough, it is time to bake it. Set the oven to 350° or 375°. Place the bread into the oven. You do not need to preheat the oven. Let the bread bake for 30 to 40 minutes. When it is done the top will be golden brown. It will be well risen, and crusty. Carefully turn the hot bread out of the pan and onto a dishtowel on the counter. Be careful not to burn yourself. Thump the bottom with your finger. If it sounds hollow then it is done. If it doesn't sound hollow, then put it back into the pan and bake it some more. Allow the bread to cool down for a few minutes before slicing it.

They may be bumpy and lumpy but they sure look purty to me!

When you slice it be sure to use a serrated (bumpy) edged knife. Saw back and forth across the bread like you are sawing a log. Do not press too hard, just saw gently. When you get your first slice of bread, spread a little margarine or jam on it and take a bite. Succumb to the pleasure which only a bite of your own homemade bread can create. Grin decadently and plan your next loaf.

I used my beloved Rada serrated bread knife because it cuts so smoothly. Look at those delicious crumbs underneath!

We didn't get a chance to eat this while still warm but Oooh-Oooh Yum Yum Good! One butter bread is for my girls to split (little man was already in bed), the other butter bread was for hubby and the delicious looking one was spread with Dickinson's Pure Pacific Mountain Strawberry preserves made just for me. The bread was delicious if I do say so myself!

I was quite pleased with this recipe and will definitely try it again. In the mean time I want to try Candy's "Ultimate Amazing Bread" and another bread recipe I found using dried apricots. Sounds like a good french toast making bread.

Well I hope you enjoy your bread if you choose to try this recipe. It was VERY easy and did not take much of my time at all (very important when you have 3 under the age of 3 running around).

Blessings to you and yours!